CLICK AND CLACK: Faulty air bag light requires a scan

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1996 Honda Accord with 161,000 miles. I am the second owner, but I’ve had it since ’97, and it is the most mechanically reliable car I have ever owned. In the past few months, it has developed an intermittent issue. Sometimes — not always, but more than half the time — when I start on a drive, the air bag warning light comes on. If the trip is short, the light (if it came on) will stay on the entire time. But if the trip is longer, after 30 minutes or so the light goes off. If the light never came on, or if it goes out during a trip, once it is out, it doesn’t come back on during that trip. Is this something I should worry about? — Albert

Not unless you think you might need the air bag someday, Albert.

Air bags have a “self-diagnostic” system that takes a few seconds to run every time you start your car. So each time you start up your Accord, the computer checks to make sure all the components necessary to deploy your air bags are present, accounted for and working.

While the car is testing the air bag circuits, you’ll see the air bag (or SRS) light on your dashboard. Once the system has checked out and is ready to go, the light will go off. So if the light is on, at least one of your air bags won’t function if you need it.

On a 20-year-old car, it could be almost any part of the system. It could be a faulty sensor, a bad air bag module, a bad clock spring or a problem with a wiring harness somewhere. And you’re going to need a mechanic to scan the car for you and track it down.

In the meantime, keep your Bronko Nagurski football helmet on the passenger seat. And if the air bag light doesn’t go off after a few seconds, fasten that chin strap.

And needless to say, you’ll want to get it fixed as soon as you can, Albert.

Dear Car Talk:

I am now the owner of a 1978 Cadillac Seville Grand Opera Coupe. This was my grandmother’s car and one of a few hundred made of this model. It is not running, but I believe that is due to it sitting. It is all original and has very few miles. What is the history of this model, and is it considered “desirable” or sought-after? Thank you! — Whitney

I don’t think anyone would ever describe this car as “desirable,” Whitney. Your grandmother either had very unusual taste (you might want to look for a picture of your grandfather), or she had a great sense of humor. Or both. Because this is one of the weirdest, ugliest vehicles known to man.

For our other four readers, if you’ve never seen one, you owe it to yourself to Google “Cadillac Seville Grand Opera Coupe,” and then come back and finish reading today’s column when you’ve stopped laughing.

This was not a car made at the factory by Cadillac, which reduces its value to some extent but also gives Cadillac plausible deniability for its existence. The Grandeur Motor Car Company of — wait for it — Pompano Beach, Florida, made a bunch of these by taking a Cadillac Seville (which was based on a Chevy Nova), removing the front seats, extending the hood and windshield backward and having the driver pilot the car from where the back seat used to be.

But the piece de resistance — the touch that puts the Grand Opera Coupe in league with sky-blue polyester leisure suits and gold toilets — are the fake, wire-wheeled spare-tire covers that are built in, on each side, between where the driver sits and the front wheels.

Now, is there a market for these things, Whitney? Of course! I contacted our friend Craig Fitzgerald, who writes for He’s our go-to guy for all things automotive and ridiculous. Craig says that since they are “conversions” and not original Cadillacs, even Grand Opera Coupes in great condition have never pulled in more than about $15,000.

He says that a Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas got $16,000 for one in mint condition a couple of years ago, but I think they had to throw in a couple of Volkswagens with it.

Anyway, that’s something, Whitney, right? If you can get $15,000 or $16,000 for this thing, you can get yourself something you might be willing to be seen in, like a 2015 Camry. Good luck.

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